24 October 2008
Taking Time To Perfect The Beat (But They Still Have Love for the Street)
Mario Marchisella, Marianne Halter, João Orrechia
After the late-term abortion that was the disbanding of Five Men Three Missing, the chance to see João (the one with the healthy hair) perform again was pretty exciting to begin with. Add in two Swiss artists with all the right buzz words (visuals, electro acoustic… uhm… Swiss.) and you’ve got yourself two space cadets eating some mushrooms and expecting some sparks. Sparks, however, were not on offer this sticky Wednesday at Melville’s Berlin.
What we did get was a slow, deep, amber Burn that turned our brains into ripe brie. Mario Marchisella along with visual artist Marianne Halter have been living in Johannesburg as part of Prohelvetia’s artist residency program, creating the piece “The Conductor’s Fear of The Soloist”. Using the multi-plugs and knobs made familiar to Joburg audiences by the looping genius of 5m3m shows, as well as “self made instruments” (including a wonky bell/cymbal type structure, two modified vuvuzelas and an empty 5l water bottle), Mario creates multi-layered though surprisingly light soundscapes. The songs are warm and easy, full of hazy lines and gentle slopes. With my modified brain I was right in there with the ebbs and sweeps immediately, but the shifting and speaking of my fellow audience members made it clear they were less engaged. The visuals (by Marianne, projected into a clever gold picture frame on the wall) were slick and attractive, but probably didn’t help to catch anyone’s attention either. As the performance grew and Mario became more animated, though, layers became more dense and recognizable and the room at large began to pay attention. Mario himself was the most concrete element of the performance. With his plastic specs, ill-fitting clothing, glossy mustache and that silver watch winking out against the Real Man black arm hair, Mario looked more like a 50s NASA technician than a Swiss musician. His attention was firmly entrenched in the sound, whether seated behind his desk full of gadgets or crouched over them in the semi squat that creased the toes of those well-polished Real Man shoes. From my seat next to the window, I was able to see every button-squeeze and bell-tinkle as it happened; the shapes and textures of the soundscapes were accessible and direct. For a while, probably in the middle third of the set, we Got It. The rounded corners and fuzzy covering were peaked with tension as the sounds grew deeper and richer. Every twiddle of Mario’s fingers held the promise of chaos and “Houston, we have a problem”.
We just never got to the problem. We never hit the spark. The Burn was good – the Burn was great. Its probably the best Burn I’ve had in a while, and I’m the kind of girl who goes looking. My dead academic brain couldn’t even begin to understand the kind of inspiration that bore such unique, innovative and exacting use of sound. It was genius; it embarrassed me. But by the last song most of the original audience had bailed. Those who hadn’t left were wasted, gossiping, lolling on the upstairs couches oblivious to the performance right below them – and my space cadet partner and I were trying a lot harder than we should have been to keep our mouths closed. Maybe we’re just not ready for this. We (the mass mind, royal We) are supposed to be going through a karmic cleansing for at least the next 90 years – Hitler, Apartheid, global warming, the inability to listen to more than 45 minutes of experimental music… With a few words about thank you for listening, we had a short break to try to recover our minds before Mario began his set with João.
I was late. Berlin was besieged by the overdressed and underfed (and, I guess, due to exams, not too much young blood), and the stage area (if that) was empty but for the dozens of little musical contraptions. Laid out on the tables were empty tomato-cans, bits of sandpaper, fancy looping equipment (including a very sweet looking Kaoss pad) and a vintage selection of guitars, amps and, uh, vuvuzelas. The squishy sofas were evacuated soon, and out of the crowd stepped João Orrechia and Mario Marchisella. Past a projector, which beamed images onto a makeshift frame of people walking across said frame. I'm sure it had a meaning of some kind, but I was busier watching the performers. Both carried themselves in an air befitting the groovy librarian you never knew. It was an aesthetic well suited to what we were about to witness.
First Mario, his giant retro spectacles testing the strength of his nose-bridge, sat down, leather boots turned up and gadgets turned on. With what looked like an ice-cream stick, he tapped a 4/4 on a tiny bit of tin-can architecture, then looped the beat. João whipped out a vintage Eko bass and recorded a short riff. Slowly, in a methodical, brick-laying sort of way, each element was tested, recorded and looped. Occasionally, beats and twitches were modified and edited. Like an exploded view of a skyscraper, everything suddenly clicked back into place, the building was complete and everything was in its right place. And then everything died.
The songs were built like one-off pieces of art, temporary and fleeting. Beautiful because they sounded amazing, but also because you knew that they would soon be gone and could never be the same.
I was happy, though, to be aware of the creation before me. Sure, I can't tell you today what I heard, and sure, you may never know, but the fact that I heard the music of these two men with a few strange instruments is enough to keep me happy. I was trying to find some reference point to describe what i heard ("Four Tet, but simpler and cleaner... or not like Four Tet at all..."), but I ran myself in circles and decided that there was no real point.
I couldn't start describing it even if I wanted to.
Big thanks to Sam Hill for the photos for the night - they were awesome.